PROVO — Rather than the usual sullen face, Pamela Mortensen had a smile and was even laughing before her court hearing Wednesday morning.
Roger Mortensen, too, was visibly happy and the two kept looking at their family members sitting on the bench in the front row of the courtroom and at each other as prosecutors made a motion to dismiss murder charges against them.
Pamela Mortensen was released from jail just two hours later, after spending more than four months behind bars. She came out of the Utah County Jail hand-in-hand with family members. She didn't say anything as she walked to the car.
Family members, however, didn't hesitate to express their joy over the recent turn of events after investigators announced Tuesday they no longer believe the couple brutally murdered Kay Mortensen, Roger Mortensen's father.
"I am very grateful that finally the truth is known," said Donna Rissinger, Pamela Mortensen's mother.
"All we have ever wanted was the truth to come out — that is all we have ever wanted," added Fern Caka, Kay Mortensen's youngest sister, who added that Christmas this year will be much brighter.
Tuesday afternoon, Benjamin David Rettig and Martin Bond, both of Vernal, were arrested in connection with the killing of Kay Mortensen, a 70-year-old BYU professor who was found in his Payson home on Nov. 16, 2009, with his throat slashed.
A $1 million cash-only bail was set for the two 23-year-olds, who were booked for investigation of aggravated murder, aggravated burglary and aggravated kidnapping.
Roger and Pamela Mortensen arrived at their father and father-in-law's home the night of his slaying and were met by two robbers who tied them up at gunpoint and instructed them to tell investigators that three black men had done it — otherwise "they would find them and kill them," according to an affidavit filed Wednesday in Provo's 4th District Court.
After the intruders left, the couple called 911, describing the white males and telling investigators that the killers had threatened their lives for doing so. But police said their stories were inconsistent.
"She saw purple gloves, while he saw blue gloves," said Anthony Howell, Roger Mortensen's attorney, adding that it was small inconsistencies like that that led prosecutors to file charges last summer. Howell also recalled that Pamela Mortensen had remembered one of the killers sitting on a stool in the home while Roger Mortensen hadn't. The Payson couple was indicted by a grand jury in late July and have been in jail for the past four months. Pamela's trial was to begin next month and Roger's was scheduled for April.
"At the end of the day, we all perceive the same event differently," Howell said. "It would have been more inconsistent with human nature if they had the exact same story."
But it was a tipster who sent police on a chase that turned the whole case around, making Roger and Pamela Mortensen witnesses in the case instead of defendants.
"They saw Roger and Pamela on the news and felt they had to come forward," prosecutor Tim Taylor said of the informant, who called police this weekend. He said the woman showed great courage coming forward and added that she has asked to remain anonymous.
After getting the call, police went to the Uintah County homes of both Bond and Rettig. Both admitted to taking weapons from Kay Mortensen's home, tying Roger and Pamela Mortensen up and being involved with the killing, the police affidavit states.
Police say Bond showed detectives where he had allegedly buried weapons and discarded them in attempts to conceal them. Officers found 14 shotguns, rifles and handguns buried at a location in Vernal and also found several other weapons in a septic tank at a park in the area.
Bond had firearms that had the serial numbers scratched off, and Rettig was in possession of Roger Mortensen's driver's license, which had been taken the night of the murder, police say. Rettig also told police that he and Bond had tied up Pamela and Roger Mortensen after the older Mortensen's throat had already been cut. He also said Bond had talked about committing the burglary a day or two prior after Bond said "he knew where he could get a large amount of weapons worth 20 to 30 thousand dollars," the affidavit states.
"Both Rettig and Bond implicated each other related to the burglary, kidnapping and murder," investigators wrote. "Martin said Rettig had cut Kay's throat and stabbed him in the back of the neck making a statement related to a gladiator. Rettig said Martin was the one who was responsible for cutting Kay Mortensen's throat."
Chad Noakes, Pamela Mortensen's attorney, said he spent all of Tuesday with his client.
"She was elated to know the truth had come out and that her prayers had been answered," Noakes said. "There was also an obvious frustration with the justice system for keeping her in jail for four months for a crime she hadn't committed. Not only were they wrongly accused, they were held at gunpoint themselves. Pamela and Roger could have easily lost their lives that night as well."
Noakes also said his client is excited to put the past behind her and to be able to give her family and dog a hug.
Howell said his client is overjoyed with what has happened in the last few days. He said Roger Mortensen has felt like he was the victim of a terrible crime.
"He is elated, ecstatic, relieved," Howell said Wednesday. "When I told him yesterday, he hugged me and started crying and couldn't talk for a few minutes."
Howell said this case shows that there may be a flaw in the grand jury system, adding that the defense is not allowed to present evidence when someone is brought before a grand jury.
"You end up with purely the state's opinion," Howell said. "There are no checks and balances."
He said the only other Utah County case he could remember being brought to a grand jury with a conviction was the one with the BYU football players accused of rape and each of those players were exonerated at trial.
He said even though he believed the state's case against his client was not strong, he admitted that "any time you go to trial you can be convicted."
And he also added that had the informant not come forward, the trials would have been long, difficult and complicated.
"I hope they both would've been found not-guilty," Howell said, "but they now have been proven innocent, which is better than being found non-guilty because there is no question in people's minds."
Roger Mortensen is expected to be transferred to the Weber County Jail for his unrelated federal weapons charges, though Howell hopes the court takes into consideration the murder charges being dismissed.
While the news was quite a "paradigm shift" for the state, Taylor said, he expects no other arrests will be made.
"This case turned rather quickly," Taylor said. "I am sure it will take time for healing, but right now they will be our witnesses."
In addition to the first-degree felony murder charges, third-degree felony charges of obstruction of justice were also dismissed against the Mortensens.